Heat stroke begins in a horse as heat stress. High external temperatures, a high rate of activity or a combination of both of these factors can bring on the increase in body temperature that leads to heat stroke. Exercising your horse in hot and humid weather requires diligence and extra care. Offering water to the horse throughout the exercise period is vital to prevent heat stress or stroke. Without proper treatment, heat stroke can be a deadly condition for your horse. Learning the warning signs is imperative to prevent a heat stroke from occurring.
Horse that are working or being exercised are at a greater risk of heat stress and stroke than a horse that is simply grazing in the pasture. When the muscles are working harder than a relaxed state, the internal temperature of the horse increases. While a temperature of 101 is normal for a horse, temperatures can reach up to 104 degrees F. This begins the heat stress process. As the horse’s temperature increases, it will exhibit signs of distress that must be headed. The respiratory rate of the horse will increase as the heart rate becomes more rapid. The horse will begin to sweat more rapidly as well. This profuse sweating is the first visual sign of a problem.
Dehydration leads to heat stress and heat stroke. A dehydrated horse will exhibit the same e warning signs as a heat stroke victim, but also have a less elasticized skin. The skin of the neck when pinched will sag and not snap back into shape quickly. A well-hydrated horse will regain its skin shape within seconds when this test is performed. Dehydration is a leading factor in heat stroke and stress and should be treated promptly.
Offer an ailing horse cool water to sip slowly to regain its normal temperature. Cold water will provide a shock to the horse and worsen the condition. Allow the horse to sip the cool water, offering more as the trough is emptied.
Treating heat stroke and stress requires veterinarian attention. Call your local large animal doctor as soon as the horse presents with signs of a heat stroke or severe heat stress. While waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, move the horse to a shaded location with air ventilation. Provide air movement from a fan if necessary to keep the airflow moving around the horse. Bathe the horse’s legs with a spray of cold water or apply cold compresses to the legs. When using compresses, change the compress often as the heat from the horse will make the compress hot quickly. Continue this treatment until the veterinarian arrives.
Preventing heat stroke and stress is the best method of treatment. If your horse appears altered, stop exercise and begin a cool down session to provide the necessary air low and water to the horse to prevent heat stress. Do not exercise your horse in the most hot and humid part of the day if possible. Move an exercise session to the evenings when the air is cooler and the sun is less penetrating. Prevention is always the best medicine.